Student researchers compete in BIG Pitch

Posted on October 11 by Agrima Poudel, Collegiate Times

A Virginia Tech research team made a big splash by being named one of the eight finalists in the BIG Pitch Competition, hosted by Georgia Southern University’s Business Innovation Group (BIG), for its work on resource recovery from wastewater.

The team, which is part of the Environmental Biotechnology and Bioenergy Lab, travelled to Savannah, Georgia, for the competition on Oct. 11 to pursue the grand prize of $10,000. The final results were announced on Oct. 12 at 9 a.m.

“A professor told (our group) to enter the BIG Pitch competition, sponsored by the Ocean Exchange,” said Shuai Luo, a Ph.D. student studying environmental engineering. “We sent in all the materials, and after a week they gave us a notification saying we were selected as a finalist and we should get ready to go to Georgia for the competition.”

Tech competed against seven other universities on Sunday, including Georgia Institute of Technology, Valdosa State University and Cornell University. The winner by one vote was Opus 12 from Stanford University.

Resource recovery from wastewater focuses on sustainable water treatment and recovery processes. Their project is composed of bioenergy production, nutrients recovery and water reuse.

“I’ve been (working) on this project for over a year, and at first I didn’t think we could do anything with it,” said Mohan Qin, a Ph.D. student in environmental engineering. “After we got the results, I was like, ‘Wow, this is something.’ So we submitted a paper which got published in a journal, and since then we have been entering competitions.”

Qin received the 2015 International Society for Microbial Electrochemistry and Technology (ISMET) Innovation Award for Best Technological Advancement, and her paper is the foundation for the team’s entrance into the competition.

“Our job is to deal with wastewater and try to do something with the wastewater,” Qin said. “We don’t just want to treat it as waste; (we want to) treat it as a source for useful things.”

Georgia Southern has partnered with the Ocean Exchange to create the BIG Pitch competition, which allows college students to use science, engineering and technology to present sustainable solutions to various problems.

“We’ve gone through and done our research on the other colleges, and (after looking through their technologies), I feel like our system might have an advantage,” said Hayden Tse, a junior in civil and environmental engineering. “Cornell is one that we might have to look out for.”

The BIG pitch drew in a total of 28 applications, which were then narrowed down to eight teams. The eight teams then competed at Georgia Southern University by giving three-minute pitches.

“I like how diverse it is,” said Katherine Olson, a junior in environmental science. “There are so many different types of technologies.”

The teams were required to present a pitch about their project in front of 150 delegates from businesses, NGOs, academia and the government. The delegates then decided on who won the $10,000 cash prize.

“We only (had) three minutes (to present),” Olson said. “A lot of the (presentation) is not about the technology itself but about how we are going to get it out into the real world.”

To prepare for the competition, the team worked hard all last week to practice its pitch, adopting the “Steve Jobs” way.

“We’re trying not to be too boring,” said Hayden Tse, a junior in civil and environmental engineering. “We’re trying to add in some funny lines.”

The entire event was streamed live on the Ocean Exchange Live Stream at 6 p.m. Sunday night.

In April 2015, the team placed fourth in a video competition held by Reclaim. The competition required them to send in a two-minute video describing their project.

“The video was a background about wastewater issues in general,” Olson said. “We focused on the exact technology our lab is working on and how it can help deal with those issues on small and large scales.”

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